Singing The Stones



Kirsti Melville hears from indigenous people about the importance of the ancient rock carvings and songlines in Murujuga or the Dampier Archipelago in Australia.

It's been described as "the largest outdoor art gallery on the planet". The rock carvings here on the Dampier Archipelago tell the story of fifty thousand years of human existence - of how the Yaburara people who created the art lived and how the world changed around them. Kirsti discovers how the carvings act as the "score" for one of the earliest songlines, starting here in Murujuga – the indigenous people's name for the Dampier Archipelago and Burrup Peninsula - and travelling right through to Uluru, the heart of Australia.

The Yaburara people carved more than a million drawings into the red rocks. They give a detailed record of both sacred and secular life. There are flightless birds, fish and turtles, giant kangaroos, creation spirits, complex human figures and the, now extinct, thylacine. The rock art is profoundly connected to beliefs and ceremonies still practiced today.

But, over the past fifty years, this immense site of human history has been threatened by massive industry. Within a stone’s throw of this ancient rock art there are petrochemical plants, a giant gas hub and one of Australia’s busiest ports.

Now, after years of lobbying, Aboriginal traditional custodians, archaeologists and government are, for the first time, working together to push for World Heritage listing. Will this sacred site finally receive the protection it deserves?

Produced by Kirsti Melville
An ABC and Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 4

A local guide to the 50,000 year old rock carvings on the Dampier Archipelago, Australia.